Danger and Glamour: Mille Miglia

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The original Mille Miglia is one of motorsport’s legendary races, run at a time when health and safety came second to excitement. The thousand mile race over open public roads was conceived by an Italian Count in protest of the Italian Grand Prix being moved from his hometown of Brescia to Monza. The track was set as a lap of Italy from Brescia to Rome and back, and entry was restricted to unmodified production cars. Out of 77 starters only 51 made it to the finish line of the very first Mille Miglia. The race cemented the legendary status of marques such as Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Alfa Romeo, regularly attracting 5 million spectators along its route. Who wouldn’t want to see beautiful cars tear by on open beautiful roads?

Unlike modern rallies, the Mille Miglia sent the slowest cars out onto the course before the more powerful factory-backed competitors. Each car was given a number based on the time at which it started the race, so Sterling Moss’s legendary #722 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR set off at 7.22 am. He and navigator Denis ‘Jenks’ Jenkinson set the absolute record for the thousand mile lap with a time of 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds. Their average speed over that time was an eye-watering 97.9 mph/157.6 km/h. The race was held twice in its original format after that record-setting run, but the time was never beaten.

While probably for the best, it’s a shame that there aren’t many races left that match the drama and danger of the Mille Miglia. Holding it on public roads was divine madness. One year, German driver Hans Herrmann at the wheel of a low-slung Porsche 550 Spyder saw the gates of a railway crossing begin to lower as he approached. Tapping the back of his navigator’s helmet to tell him to duck, he floored the nimble little Porsche and flew under the barrier just before the train passed. That was the kind of race that the Mille Miglia was. Unfortunately, you’re only lucky so many times. At the 1957 running Spanish driver Alfonso de Portago, desperate to win, waited too long to change tyres on his 4.2 litre Ferrari. He lost control and crashed, killing himself, his navigator, and nine spectators. Five of those were children. The race was subsequently banned, and is now held as a timed rally at legal speeds open to pre-1957 cars which attended or raced in the original Mille Miglia.

Posted @Whippstagram on Intsagram, Wednesday June 29th 2016

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Danger and Glamour: Mille Miglia